By Larry Neumeister Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government will let lawyers for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law interview alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay under conditions that may prevent it from happening, attorneys preparing for a terrorism trial later this month told a judge Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara said lawyers for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith can interview Mohammed if they agree to conditions set by the government.
Defense lawyer Stanley Cohen told U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan that one of nine conditions includes a requirement that attorneys for the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense attend the interview.
“That could be a deal breaker,” Cohen said. Outside court, the attorney said Mohammed has agreed to be interviewed but insisted that no government lawyers attend.
Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 24 for Abu Ghaith’s trial on charges he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida’s spokesman after the September 11 attacks.
Cohen said defense lawyers want to interview Mohammed to decide whether to call him as a witness. In court papers last week, the lawyers said Mohammed was “the most qualified person alive” to tell them whether Abu Ghaith knew of any al-Qaeda terrorist operations or was part of any conspiracy to kill Americans.
Cohen said Mohammed was likely to be a “very helpful witness,” but he said he objects to government lawyers attending the interview of Mohammed because it interferes with their right to independent development of a defense.
Cohen said that if the interview went well, then defense lawyers would request that Mohammed be allowed to testify at the trial, though it was more likely that other arrangements would be made if he were approved as a witness. For instance, prosecutors have requested that a witness in London be permitted to testify live via videotape.
Ferrara and Cohen were scheduled to return to court Thursday to update the judge on the issue.
“Our position’s going to be that we made him available to the defense,” Ferrara told the judge.